Monday, September 30, 2013

Fort 4 Fitness Challenge

One of the things I have wanted to do for many years is to run the Fort 4 Fitness race held in September every year.  This is a way that Fort Wayne is showing how it stays fit. There are three main races on Saturday, each starting at a different time. The 4-mile run/walk was first at 7:30 a.m.  Then came the mini marathon of 13.1 miles and last was the 10K run.

This year I felt that our 10K race in Atlanta for the Peachtree was one of our best ever, so why not try the Fort 4 Fitness?  Since we had never done this race and had no idea what the route would be like, we decided to do the 4-mile run.  We kept up our running all summer with long Saturday runs. We felt we were ready!
One of the tough things about this race was that it started so early in the morning. We needed to leave home at 6:00 to be sure and be at the starting line on time. It was DARK and cold. We parked the car and walked to the corral area.  We were in starting corral G. The race had over 3,000 runner/walkers in it. There was music playing as the runners gathered in the correct area to begin the run. After a prayer and the national anthem, they shot off a cannon and we were on our way.
With that many runners, I never felt alone. The people were great. So many neighborhoods made signs and wrote on the pavement to encourage the runners. I even saw a couple of my FWCS friends standing at the side. It was wonderful to hear someone yell your name and cheer you on.
We started on Baker Street and turned for a long south run on Calhoun Street. The miles clipped off at amazing speed. I think running in neighborhoods made the time go by faster.
For the end of all three races the runners turned into Parkview Field and finished on Home Plate. There were people there to place a metal around your neck for finishing and then a line to gather up some goodies the sponsors had donated. We walked over to the area where pictures were being taken and stood in line for that, too.
The weather was perfect. The race was very organized. It was a wonderful day in the fort! Can't wait to do it again next year!  Oh, and by the way, I ended up taking 4th place out of 71 women in my age group!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Focus Lesson: Publishing

It is cool and sunny as I walk up the sidewalk to visit Amy's fourth grade classroom. The smell of fair food is lingering in the air, but I am more excited about seeing what these kiddos are doing than I am in visiting the fair, which I will do when I get done! 

Today's focus lesson is: Writer's publish to get a piece ready for an audience to read.
When all the children are gathered on the floor in front of the large screen, Amy tells them to begin with a clean page in their notebook and put the title: FAIR on top.  She reminds them that this Quick Write is to warm up the brain...just like sports people warm up their muscles before an event.  The brain is a muscle. They will then be able to use the quick writes as 'seed ideas' later.

She then gives them some guidelines about publishing: You can write with a pen. You can use pretty paper. You don't have to type it.  She showed them samples of published pieces her former students had done so they could have an idea of what was possible.
Next, they went over a list of questions to see if they were indeed ready to publish. With that done, they were off to various spots in the room to work on publishing. They also had a deadline to work toward. They had to get busy!  (Just like professional writers).

I was able to conference with five students during their writing time. Braeden was writing a play about a video game: MineCraft. It was interesting to see how he was using side bars for directions on how the actors should be reading their lines. Joey was publishing his four chapter book: Snake Attack. He was working on the back cover and how to add some things to interest the reader there. David was doing a book on information for how to better play the game: MineCraft. Today he was working on the cover. Kaydence was writing a personal narrative about a trip she took to Chicago.

Grace was publishing a darling book called: Beautiful Morning. It was a picture book. She said she just loves to make words come alive. She had used repeated lines and colorful fonts in her own handwriting.
As the children went to the sharing time and gathered back on the floor, I thought about how each of these students sees themselves as writers. They are working in a workshop where anything is possible. I can see the value of taking LOTS of time at the beginning of the year to set up procedures. Allowing the children to have choice in what they are writing helps them to see the power of words. They have guidelines, but they also have freedom. The most important part of writing is to feel the ability to write for the "world" not just do what the teacher wants. Yes, there comes a time when genres must be taught. However, learning to love writing and have confidence in what you write, is powerful!

Okay, I'm now ready to head to the fair and those wonderful Fair Doughnuts!!!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Why I Teach

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook. It seems that one of my former second graders just got a job coaching a JV Volleyball team. I was very proud of her. AND I told her. Right away I messaged her, telling how proud I was of the adult she was becoming!  

From that post, she invited me to come watch her coach a game and I accepted the invitation. She gave me dates of her games. We looked over our busy schedule. We finally settled on going to a game. 

Last night we traveled to Butler, to a gym full of fans and players. We saw them  practicing and doing drills when we got there. We found seats in the center of the bleachers.  We watched as the coach tossed balls to her team and then got them settled into being ready to play.  She was focused on her team. She didn't sit on the bench much the whole night.  She paced. She tossed out comments. She gathered her girls around her. Yes, she was focused. 

Her team won, which was exciting. But more than that, I loved seeing her become the responsible young lady I always knew she would become. And, for this retired teacher, it makes me proud to know I had a little part in making her who she is today!!  Love you, Paige!  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Writing Lesson: Revision

"Will you talk to me today?"
That was what a fourth grade boy asked me as I was sitting in his classroom waiting for the transition between Math time and Writing time.

"Sure," I said, being secretly thrilled because this was only my second time in the classroom and he was already comfortable enough with me to ask for my help!

"What are you working on?"
"I have written three books, all in my notebook. I now want to combine them into one book," he told me as he leafed through the notebook.
"So, you're going to make each of those books a chapter?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so."
"Okay, after the lesson I will be over to see what your doing. Can't wait to see those books!"

Such was the beginning of my day in the fourth grade. The writing lesson for the day was: Writers notice spots where more needs to be added. 
Amy started the focus lesson with the children doing a Quick Write in their notebook. They were to write Cool Mornings at the top of their page and then make a list.  It only took about two minutes and then a couple kids shared one thing on their list.

She then turned to a page in the book: A Writer's Notebook by Ralph Fletcher and read Radical Surgery. This was about how to add things to the draft. They talked about not writing on both sides of the draft paper, cutting the draft apart and rearranging it. They talked about skipping lines and then adding things in those lines...maybe in different colored ink. They talked about using * to show where you added a longer piece. Then she shared the ever popular "spider legs" and post its.  Now it was time to go write.

I sat down beside Madeline and asked what she was working on today. She was writing a memoir about her and her best friend. We talked briefly about the difference between a personal narrative and a memoir. She knew she needed to go deeper with the writing. As she told me her story, I kept asking: "So what?"  I think she got tired of me saying that. Finally, I said, "What do you want your readers to know? What should they take away when they have read this piece?"  After making a brief outline/plan for her piece she decided to end it with a moral. Something the reader could take and apply to his life. My teaching point with her was: Your writing needs to have a purpose---meaning.

Next I sat beside Anna who was writing a poem about a friend. I asked her to tell me things about her friend. This was not to be a short moment in time, it was to be more of an "all about" her friend. When she had listed orally the things that made her friend special, I asked her, "How do you feel about Ally?"  My teaching point with her was: Ending with a feeling gives closure to a poem. 

I talked to a few more students,. I listened to the sharing time where young authors told how they added things to their pieces using the strategies from the focus lesson. After debriefing with Amy, I headed out. Before I left the room, I stopped to talk to Joey, the boy with the three books. He had been working on the computer all period, so I never got to conference with him. I promised I would be back next week and we would look at those stories.

Another successful workshop. Another time of busy writers working on their own projects. Another chance for me to see how smart these children are!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Nonfiction Notebooks by Aimee Buckner

When the doorbell rang a few days ago, I rushed to see who it was.  Visitors coming to my door just doesn't happen that often.  I was so excited to see that it was a box from Stenhouse Publishers.  That meant a book that I had ordered was here.  Yes, I know I am retired and should NOT be ordering professional books any more.  But this one was different.

This one was by a personal favorite author.  I just love how Aimee Buckner writes. She makes things so easy to understand. It is like she is sitting there just talking to you. It doesn't hurt that I have had the chance to meet Aimee and that we have a friend in common. Her former principal is Mary Baldwin. I met Mary many years ago in NYC. We connected immediately.  She is from Atlanta, Georgia and runs in the Peachtree race like I do.  She even allowed me to visit her school one summer when I was in Atlanta to run. That was the year Aimee was coming to teach fourth grade. The next year, Aimee came to our All Write Institute and spoke and I had the privilege of introducing her.

Many classrooms start out the year launching their writer's workshop with the notebook. Using the writer's notebook for narrative writing seems to be an easy way to start. However, many times the notebook then gets left behind as various genres are introduced. That is where this book comes in. Nonfiction Notebooks Strategies for Informational Writing is just what teachers need to continue to work with notebooks.

Aimee's book helps teachers  see how they can use the notebook to help with those genres that the CCSS address: opinion/argument; informational; and narrative. Aimee shows how the prewriting work a student does is particularly important when writing informational pieces.  This book takes teachers step-by-step through the process of how best to use notebooks for informational writing.

Even though I am now retired and not really connected to any certain grade, school or district, I am still excited about what I am reading in this book.  Like a friend of mine says, "You will never really stop being a teacher!"  I guess that's true. So, hop on the Stenhouse website and check out this book. I think it is just what you have been looking for!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11/2001

Today is a day of remembering.  As I was out for my morning walk, a neighbor came out into her yard carrying a flag.  She said, "We don't have a flag pole." She had just recently moved here and she just realized a flag pole was not part of the house. We talked about how emotional this day was even if it was twelve years ago.

This year, in my travels, I had the chance to not only visit the Trade Center memorial again, but also for the first time see the crash site in Pennsylvania. Both of those areas were emotional visits.

View of church that stood through it all, across from the Trade Center.

I was in New York in March and the weather was awful. It was snowing that sloppy wet mess. I felt like I was freezing since I didn't expect the weather to be like that and had not dressed for it. Still, the memorial was full of people. It was quiet and peaceful. Everyone remembering.

In May, we stopped on our way to Philadelphia to see the site of Flight 93. We traveled off our regular path and drove through roads and roads until we found it. We saw the place where the plane went down. We sat and looked out at what must of been the last thing these heroes saw. We read all the material. It was quiet and peaceful. Everyone remembering.
May we never forget how we felt on that day. May we always be thankful for the freedom we have. May we always remember God is Good, All the Time!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I'm Back

Summer is officially over. Well, actually, if you checked with our weather here in northern Indiana today, you would think it was still the middle of summer. The temperature is to get up to 95 today! Even with that facing me, I headed into school to meet the new fourth graders I will be working along side this year.

Amy introduced me and told the students I would be pulling up beside them this year and listening to their work. I would be offering suggestions or praise for what they were doing. One boy said, "Kind of like what you do, Mrs. Norton."  Yes, he was right!

Today's lesson was; Writers wonder in a writing notebook. She asked them to think about: What do you day dream about? What haunts you? What memories or images keep swimming through your head? What is on your mind when you wake up? What questions stick with you? After reading a piece from Ralph Fletcher's A Writer's Notebook, they discussed the difference in observing and wondering. Next came the active engagement part of the lesson. They took out their notebooks and wrote: WONDER LIST on the top of a page. After a few minutes of writing, a few shared: dreams, questions--how do tortoises live without water?, What am I? 

The choice for today's writing was: continue with the wonder list OR write 'off of' one of the wonderings, OR continue with the draft they had been working on. 

I conferenced with three students:
Amelia was doing amazing work with comics. She has done lots of work in this genre. She has a family she writes about over and over. This comic was called: FISHING. This was not just a piece for her to use art, it had a point and lesson to it. (There is more to do than just watch t.v.)
Ava was working in her notebook. She came to me asking for some help to get focused. She had great ideas but kept getting off track. We decided it would be good to just make a list of the things going on in her head. She was working on the idea of snakes. Her list included what snakes did and what they looked like. After she completed her list, she was going to work on organizing the various subjects.
Tim was stuck. He had no idea what he was going to do in the notebook. After some discussion, he realized he liked to explore. He turned to a new page in his notebook and wrote EXPLORE on the top of a page. He was making a list of places he like to explore and things he had found while exploring. He will continue with that list tomorrow.

Next, it was time for the Author's Chair. Two children shared their work today. A boy shared what he had written about a scary dream he had. It was a great narrative using lots of action and dialog. A girl wrote about the first time she met a friend. Her plan is to have the friend write about it, too. Then they would combine their work into a book.

Great things going on in this classroom. I can't wait to see what these children do this year. I love to just sit back and watch a child process what they want to write.